Note: These guidelines assume you are interviewing for a professional or office position. Before your interview, it’s always a good idea to try to find out how people at the company, or in that industry, dress on a day-to-day basis—or even better, how you could expect them to dress when interviewing you. This allows you to mirror your interviewers’ style of dress and level of formality, helping to create an unconscious feeling of familiarity and a sense that you belong. But when in doubt, dress up rather than down; such research is primarily useful to avoid the awkwardness of showing up in a suit and tie to meet three interviewers wearing polo shirts and khakis, or vice versa.

1. A solid navy or grey suit, in wool or wool blend, two-button, two-piece, single-breasted, notch-lapel. Any other pattern serves no substantive benefit and may in fact be distracting; pinstripes may be seen as flashy, as would peak lapels on a single-breasted suit. And, as Morgan Freeman noted in The Dark Knight, "Three buttons is a little nineties, Mr. Wayne." In terms of colour, navy and grey are the most conservative; however, black is becoming more common, and if it meets all the other criteria, a black suit will be acceptable for any but the most conservative occupations.

2. A white shirt with a plain point or moderately-spread collar (not button-down). People wearing white shirts are perceived as more trustworthy than those wearing any other colour. However, if you have extremely yellow teeth or extremely pallid skin, solid light blue serves as a good second choice, because it works with any colour of suit and virtually any tie. These are the two shirt colours favoured by politicians the world over for their inoffensiveness and versatility, two qualities also desirable to an interviewee. But avoid French cuffs, since they can be perceived as flashy; if you do wear them, choose subtle cufflinks that are at least 1/2", and not more than 3/4", in diameter.

3. A darker, solid-coloured or subtly-patterned tie. The tie should always be darker than the shirt, lest you look like a mafioso. Plain dark red or burgundy is a good choice, as is medium silver-grey. For patterns, a small dot, nailhead, or geometric pattern is safest. And if your tie is striped or patterned, keep it to a maximum of three (ideally only two) colours or shades; anything else risks looking dated. Also avoid large patterns, such as paisley. And NO SATIN. Lastly, ensure that your tie knot is tight, pulled right up to your collar, and not overly large. Check it in the bathroom mirror before you go into the interview (you did arrive 10-15 minutes early, right?).

4. Round-toed black lace-up dress shoes. Note that every single descriptor in this list is essential. If they’re not round-toed, they’ll look dated. If they’re not black, they’ll look flashy. If they’re not lace-up, they’ll look too casual. And if they’re not dress shoes, they’ll just look inappropriate. A plain cap toe (pictured at right) is always a good choice and will never be inappropriate. You can also get away with a small row of perforations across the top of the cap. Wing-tips are a little bit stuffy and not quite as versatile, so try to avoid them.

5. A black dress belt, no wider than 1.25 inches. The belt should match your shoes in both its colour and the finish of its leather (i.e. texture and level of shine). Choose a simple prong buckle rather than a plaque or any other design. The tone of the buckle’s metal should match your watch. The choice of silver or gold is up to you, although silver is more current.

6. Socks that match the colour of your pants. Solid or subtly ribbed, in wool or cotton depending on the weather. Not faded; ideally, washed once, inside-out, in cold water. I find that a good percentage of nylon (25-35%) and a small percentage of spandex (5-10%) greatly helps dress socks to stay up properly.

7. No pocket square, unless you’re interviewing with a menswear store, a rapper, or the NBA.

8. A simple, elegant, moderately-sized (less than 35mm in diameter) dress watch, preferably with a leather strap. The colour of the metal and leather should match the other things you're wearing (silver and black, preferably). A plain white face with Roman numerals is ideal. Absolutely no sports watches or *shudder* digital watches.

Generally speaking, no aspect of your outfit should be loud, flashy, or conspicuous in any way. You want to project a general aura of being well-put-together, without any one item drawing attention to itself. People should be left with the impression that you looked good, but not quite be able to put their finger on why. Ideally, your clothes will serve as a backdrop, allowing your non-physical strengths to shine through, but at the same time subtly enhancing your overall appeal—like the setting of a gemstone.

So, you get the job, and then you discover that the dress code is “business casual.” Sweet! Now you’re home free, right?

Well… not quite.

But we’ll talk about that next time.


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